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Archive for May, 2008

Chocolate is soul food for me, chocolate is the most delicious thing on earth. There is no equivalent to the experience of placing a perfectly shiny piece of chocolate on your tongue, letting it melt slowly in your mouth till it goes all around and then chewing it when it becomes too irresistible. I love cooking with chocolate mostly because I end up eating a lot of it neat while chopping.

That said I don’t exactly start my day with hot chocolate – its one of those things I make when I am particularly tired mentally. Every bit of making hot chocolate is invigorating – starting with the aroma of chocolate that is beginning to melt to the whisking of chocolate to a smooth shiny consistency. I like my hot chocolate dark and rich with not too much milk or flavourings.

Ingredients (for one serving of hot chocolate)

  • Dark chocolate – 2 ounces (I use 2 1/2 ounces for darker hot chocolate)
  • Water – 1/4 cup
  • Warm Milk – 1/2 cup (adjust as per taste)
  • Honey – 1 tsp
  • Vanilla extract or flavouring of choice – 1/2 tsp

Method

  1. Chop chocolate with a serrated knife.
  2. Warm water in the microwave for 20 seconds on high. Add chopped chocolate, whisk and microwave on high for 1 minute or so. Stir once in between after the first 30 seconds.
  3. Whisk the chocolate well till its smooth and shiny. Add honey and vanilla and mix well.
  4. Pour into serving cup. Let it cool to lukewarm.
  5. Warm slightly, pour warm milk and serve.

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Mor Kootu is a yogurt based gravy that is often used with a few vegetables – cabbage, ash gourd, taro, cucumber and vazha tandu (stem of the plantain). It’s not a raita, its not a Mor Kozhambu, or an avial. It has a distinct taste and personality of its own. Although I am not really aware of its history much, I think this was specially invented by the Maamis to help us cool off on the rather hot summer days that we have to suffer.

Ingredients

  • Ash Gourd – 200-250 gms
  • Curd – 1 cup (1/2 cup more if you want more gravy)
  • Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
  • Hing – 1/4 tsp
  • Oil – 1 tsp
  • Salt to taste

For the paste

  • Coconut – 1/4 cup cut pieces or scraped
  • Cumin – 1 tsp
  • Green Chilly – 1 nos

For the tempering

  • Mustard Seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Curry Leaves – 4-5 nos.
  • Red Chilly – 1 no.
  • Oil – 1 tsp

Method

  1. Wash, Peel and cut Ash gourd into cubes. Parboil the ash gourd cubes with turmeric and hing. In a microwave this should take about 4 minutes on high.
  2. Grind the ingredients for the paste coarsely with very little water.
  3. Add this to the parboiled Ash Gourd pieces and cook for a minute.
  4. Beat the curd, add salt and mix well.
  5. Reduce the flame to low and add curd. Simmer for a minute – be careful not to over heat, the yogurt should not separate. Take off flame and transfer to serving dish.
  6. Heat oil in the tempering ladle or vessel – pop the mustard seeds, add curry leaves and red chilly broken into two and toast. Add this tempering to the Ash gourd kootu.

Notes:

  1. Use thick curd that isn’t sour. Although many recipes call for sour curds, IMHO Kootus are not meant to be sour. They are meant to tease your senses with subtle notes of spices and flavourings used.
  2. Mor Kootu works as both a gravy to mix with rice and a dish on the side. The quantity of curd added can vary depending on how much gravy you’d like the kootu.
  3. The oil that one uses for tempering can be used to enhance the flavour. I used coconut oil which worked very well.
  4. It tastes like a piece of heaven when chilled. You’d be able to savour this experience completely only if you live in parts as hot as mine. (I live in Chennai)

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Vegetables simmered in a midly flavoured gravy which is usually lentil based is perhaps the closest I can get to describing what a Kootu is. Kootus are the goodness of vegetables with the best combination and right proportion of spices that don’t attack your taste buds with the sourness of a sambar. Kootus come in very handy to answer most of these existential questions one needs to answer in the kitchen, like “What do I cook today?” or “Now what does one do with this vegetable that doesn’t even have a name?”. Kootus come in many avatars – there’s Poricha Kootu, Pal Kootu, Mor Kootu, Puli Kootu, Varutha Araitha Kootu, Araitha Vitta Kootu and Thenga Pal Kootu. And then for flavourings one can add or subtract from the basic spices, toast and grind, toast and simmer or soak and grind. The choice of lentils though usually Moong Dal, could also be Toor Dal or Channa Dal or a combination of dals.

Ash Gourd Kootu

Ingredients

  • Moong Dal – 1/2 cup
  • Vegetable/s – 200-250 gms
  • Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
  • Hing (asafoetida) – 1/4 tsp
  • Mustard Seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Ghee or Oil – 1 tsp

For flavouring, to be toasted and ground

  • Urad Dal – 1 tsp
  • Channa Dal – 1 tsp
  • Coriander Seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Black Peppercorns – 1/4 tsp
  • Red Chillies – 2 nos.
  • Whole Hing (asafoetida) – a small piece
  • Grated Coconut – 2 tbsp (rounded)
  • Ghee or Oil – 1 tsp

Method

  1. Toast all the ingredients for the flavouring paste except coconut in ghee/oil till the dals turn golden. Take off flame and add coconut and keep aside to cool. Blend into a smooth thick paste with a couple of tablespoons of water if required.
  2. Pressure Cook the Moong Dal in enough water. Par boil the vegetables with turmeric and hing in a microwave safe container.
  3. In a deep vessel, heat oil/ ghee pop the mustard seeds, add the vegetables (parboil at this stage if you’re not using the microwave). Add the moong dal followed by the paste. Mix well and simmer on a low flame till the kootu starts to bubble.
  4. Add salt, simmer for an additional minute and take off flame.

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How incredibly absent minded can a person get? Today I skipped keeping the rice in the cooker and went ahead and religiously let the steam build and pressure drop only to discover that the rice pan was missing inside. It took me another 20 minutes to figure where I’d kept the rice – washed and filled with water.

I must have broken every other record out there for the height of absent mindedness!!! Now this calls for some celebration and the virtual sharing of sweet treats.

White chocolate truffles anyone?

Ingredients

  • White chocolate – 8 oz (chopped with a serrated knife)
  • Fresh Cream – 1/4th cup
  • Vanilla – 1 tbsp (or flavouring of choice)
  • Almonds – 1/4 cup (split into two and toasted)
  • Chocolate strands (for outer covering)

Method

  1. Bring the Fresh Cream to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Take off heat and pour over the chopped chocolate in medium bowl. Whisk well until the ganache (chocolate mixture) is smooth, silky and shiny.
  3. Freeze for 3 – 4 hours until the ganache is set. The ganache is well set if its easy to scoop but not sticky.
  4. Line a tray or flat vessel with parchment or wax paper. Keep a broad bowl with chocolate strands ready.
  5. Scoop out a small portion, punch in a piece of toasted almond and shape into a round ball using the tips of your fingers.
  6. Make 5 to 6 such balls approx 1 inch diameter, put into the bowl with chocolate strands and shake to coat all over. Transfer to the tray. Repeat for rest of the ganache.
  7. Freeze truffles for an hour until set.

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I was allowed a lot of liberties as a child – like scribbling on the wall. Each time I learnt a new alphabet or number in my pre school, the first thing I’d do after coming home was to rush to my wall and scribble it out nice and big for everyone to see how knowledgeable I had become. And then there were these other times when I’d just draw as if the entire wall was my canvas. It was a supremely satisfying experience.

The scribbling became more structured after a year. Amma made sure I switched from the wall to pieces of paper, and that I graduated to using colour pencils. Most importantly she had negotiated a very important deal with me – I was to sit at a pre determined time every day, follow her instructions and learn to draw and shade from her. My drawing lessons began with the two most wonderful looking eatables – Mango and Brinjal (Eggplant/Aubergine). They were ideal to begin small lessons in shape, stroke and shading. I loved drawing the Brinjal – a green stylish cap, a fat pot like belly and the strokes of purple and white – it was a happy experience. I drew it almost every other day till I got it right, perfect like the real thing.

Making Roasted Brinjal is an experience much like my first brush with art. I love roasting eggplant, I have roasted eggplant so many times since I have started cooking and yet I can never get tired of it. Everything about making this dish makes me smile – from cuttting the eggplant into thin discs, to preparing the masala to watching the eggplant brown over a just medium flame.

Ingredients

For the Wafers

  • Eggplant – 1
  • Cornflour – 6 tbsp
  • Amchur – 1 tbsp
  • Turmeric – 1 tsp
  • Hing – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil – 2 tbsp
  • Chilly Oil for Glaze (optional)

Method

  1. Slice the eggplant into thin wafers.
  2. Mix the cornflour, salt, amchur, turmeric.
  3. Dust a broad skillet with Oil. Dust a few eggplant wafers with the cornflour mix.
  4. Over medium heat place dusted wafers in the skillet and cook one side of the wafers till slightly golden. Turn and cook the other side of the wafers. Repeat until both sides of the wafers are roasted and crisp.
  5. Repeat with the remaining eggplant. Transfer to a serving dish and glaze with Chilly oil.

Serve hot as a starter, dish on the side or use to prepare eggplant stacks.

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If boiling water and preparing tea don’t count, then you can say pasta is my first ever kitchen experiment. In fact it was the only other dish (apart from stuffed baked potatoes) that I’d prepare on my own almost everyday as an evening snack when I was in college. Yes, you heard it right – an evening snack that served as a one of kind occasion for brother-sister bonding when we’d indulge in the sheer richness and flavour of pastas.

Cooking Pasta is like cooking sadam (rice) – a seemingly simple culinary task that can become quite difficult to master given the long list of criteria for that perfect bite of pasta.

I’ve had my share of “Al Dente” mishaps on a couple of occasions. The first one was when the time I tried Fusilli – I undercooked these interesting worms and tossed them in sauce in my over enthusiasm. Thankfully a few minutes in the microwave fixed the pasta. The second one was the first time I cooked fresh lasagna sheets. It was difficult to distinguish the vegetables. There wasn’t much to salvage this time.

Pasta that is cooked “Al dente”, literally meaning “to the tooth”, is soft but holds shape, chewy but not brittle and well separated but starchy enough for the sauce to stick. Over the several times that I’ve cooked pasta, I’ve acquired the practice enough to confidently prepare “Al Dente” pasta even in the middle of the night.

Method

  1. Take water in a large bring the water to boil. About 4-5 times the amount of pasta is a good measure of how much water one needs. I use 1 litre for 250 gms of spaghetti and some more if its penne or fussili.
  2. Add Salt to the water. About 2 tsp for 250 gms is the amount of salt I use. Not all of the salt will show on the pasta.
  3. Add the pasta to the pot. Drop the pasta in slowly. Lower the heat to medium once pasta has been added. Keep the heat between medium to high. Water needs to be at a heat that keeps it just about agitated to keep the pasta separate, but does not necessarily need to be bubbling.
  4. For the first two minutes stir the Pasta a few times. You can decrease the frequency of stirring after this. In general if you’ve used enough water and if you’re keeping the water at the right temperature, the pasta is not likely to stick to the pot very easily.
  5. Take a piece of pasta and slice and check if it has a white core a couple of minutes before the pasta is fully cooked. For dried pasta one should generally check at the 4th minute for thin spaghetti, the 5th or 6th minute for Penne and about the 8th or 9th minute for Fusilli.
  6. Cook for a minute more and check if the white core has disappeared. Taste the pasta. If it sticks to the back of your teeth, you can safely cook for an additional minute. Alternatively you can remove the pasta at this stage if this is your preferred chewiness level or if you’re going to toss this in a really hot sauce. For most Olive Oil based sauces, its preferable to have the pasta cooked till it doesn’t stick to your teeth.
  7. Drain the water immediately by pouring into a colander. Shake colander to drain water. Retain some of the water for non tomato based sauces. Reserve some of the water if the recipe calls for it. Toss pasta in sauce.

Notes:

  1. Many people add oil to the water while cooking pasta. I used to  do this on a chef’s recommendation but discontinued after sometime. Oil makes the pasta slippery and I found the amount of sauce that sticks especially to spaghetti can be unsatisfactory.
  2. Many people wash pasta after its been cooked to keep the pasta separate. If you have your sauce ready before the pasta is cooked, which you should, its pointless to wash the pasta. Washing pasta again reduces the amount of sauce that gets transferred onto the pasta and hinders the overall flavour. For sauces like Pesto, retaining some of the water in the pasta without shaking it all off through the colander should help you toss the pasta in without the pasta looking sticky. Adding olive oil or a teaspoon of butter while adding the pasta to sauce also works. In short, keep your sauce ready, don’t make your pasta go cold.

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Perfectly roasted Sepakizhangu (Taro/ Colacasia/ Arbi) – crisp on the outside, well steamed and soft inside – is a dead simple recipe that contrary to popular perception doesn’t require any deep frying or a bottle of oil.

Let me get this straight. Taro is NOT inherently gooey, mashy and ichy. Taro is more often than not badly cooked and made into a gooey mess. Roasting doesn’t require oodles of oil. Roasting require good regulation of temperature and patience. There’s isn’t much to the art of roasting, besides cooking on a slow flame and knowing when and how to turn the vegetable. It’s a one of a kind experience in slow cooking.

I turn my nose up at people who don’t like Taro (even if they are friends). How can someone not like something that tastes as good as this? I can write an ode to Taro. A bowlful of roasted Taro with a newspaper or book to read is my idea of a perfectly lazy late morning snack.

Ingredients

  • Sepakizhangu (Colacasia/ Taro/ Arbi) – 1/2 kg
  • Mustard Seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Channa Dal – 1/2 tsp
  • Urad Dal (split) – 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric Powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Chilli Powder – 1/2 tsp (or more if you like)
  • Hing – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt to Taste
  • Oil – 1 tbsp

Method

  1. Wash the Taro well. Pressure Cook the Taro with the skin till its well steamed but not mushy. (Wait for the first whistle, turn the heat to low till the cooker is on its way to the second whistle. Throw a towel over the whistle to stop steam from escaping and switch the cooker off.)
  2. Remove the Taro from the cooker when the pressure drops. Allow to cool for sometime. You can sink Taro in some cool water if you like.
  3. When mildly warm but not hot, skin the Taro and cut into discs. Add Turmeric , Salt and Hing, mix and keep aside.
  4. In a large skillet , heat the Oil, crackle the mustard seeds and toast the urad dal and the channa dal.
  5. On a low to medium flame, add the Sepakizhangu. Spread evenly on the skillet with a flat ladle. Allow one side to cook for a while. When it starts to turn the lightest of golden yellow, overturn and roast the other side. Repeat this process till all sides start turning a deep golden more or less evenly. Keep the flame on low to medium all the time. Do not try to roast on high.
  6. Add chilli powder and mix well. Roast for one more minute.
  7. Remove from flame when the Taro is crisp on all sides.

Sepakizhangu roast is a great side dish for sambhar rice vethal kuzhambu rice and all variety rices.

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